In the realm of art, no interpretation of a work can be final, but intriguing hints from no less than the writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson suggest that the stunning movie There Will Be Blood is actually a story not about the rise and fall of a man so much as it is about the rise and fall of a commodity: oil.
Of course, even the intentions of the creators — and in the case of There Will Be Blood, that means principally the writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, the star Daniel Day-Lewis, the cinematographer Robert Elswit, and the composer Jonny Greenwood — don’t necessarily prove anything. (After all, Anderson revealed in one interview that he "had no idea what we were doing" until he heard Greenwood’s revelatory score.)
But consider what Anderson said in an interview bout the movie with Terry Gross:
"We all know what has happened with oil, don’t we? We all know the
end of the story. It’s a bit like Titanic, we all know the boat sinks.
The fun of the story is watching how we get there."
Or what he said in an interview about with Charlie Rose, in reference to the oil industry’s recent fortunes:
"I haven’t been living in a bubble for the last six years."
Or what the great music critic Alex Ross said of the score in The New Yorker:
Greenwood, too, writes the music of an injured Earth; if the smeared
string glissandos on the soundtrack suggest liquid welling up from
underground, the accompanying dissonances communicate a kind of
interior, inanimate pain. The cellos cry out most wrenchingly when
Plainview scratches his name on a claim, preparing to bleed the land.
Too literal an interpretation of what Anderson described to Charlie Rose as "a great boxing match" between the two of the most powerful forces in recent American history — evangelical religion and the oil industry — would be pointless.
But when it comes to the controversial ending, we have to consider the possibility that this story is not about an individual, or even an industry.
We have no choice, really, because it’s only in this context that the finale makes sense.
For those who have seen the movie, or who have no intention seeing the movie but still want to consider the idea, please read on.